Pancreatitis is swelling or inflammation of the pancreas. It’s very painful and can be fatal in severe cases.
If your pain starts suddenly and lasts for a few days, you have an acute form of pancreatitis. Acute pancreatitis requires immediate hospital attention, and should not be treated at home.
If your pain is long-lasting and occurs over many years, you have the chronic form. While there is no cure for chronic pancreatitis, lifestyle changes and natural remedies can help you manage your symptoms and prevent flare-ups.
Read on to learn more about the various natural home treatment options for chronic pancreatitis, including diet and lifestyle changes.
Basics of Pancreatitis
Your pancreas is behind your stomach in the upper part of your belly. When you eat, it makes juices containing enzymes that break down food. When your pancreas gets swollen or inflamed, the enzymes mistakenly attack the very tissues that make them.
Every year in the U.S., about 275,000 people are hospitalized with acute pancreatitis. Gallstones are the most common cause. Treatment often involves intravenous (IV) fluids. Under this method, healthcare providers deliver antibiotics, liquids, and painkillers directly into a vein in your arm.
Acute pancreatitis can be life-threatening. If you experience symptoms such as severe pain in your upper abdomen that spreads to your back, seek medical attention right away.
For chronic pancreatitis, the most common cause is heavy alcohol use, which is defined as drinking four to five alcoholic drinks a day. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, weight loss, and oily stools. This form of pancreatitis can worsen over time and cause organ damage, diabetes, kidney failure, and breathing problems.
To avoid these risks and prevent future attacks, you need to eat right, watch your weight, and exercise regularly.
Diet and Nutrition
People with severe cases of pancreatitis can become malnourished. Many need total parenteral nutrition. Fasting for several hours or days may relieve pain due to a chronic pancreatitis flare-up. However, fasting is done under the supervision of a healthcare provider who will feed you nutrients through an IV drip inserted into your vein.
When your healthcare provider says it’s ok to eat again, you can make several diet and nutrition changes at home to relieve pain and inflammation safely.
Start with smaller, more frequent meals. Following a low-fat diet that limits greasy, fried, and processed foods can lessen pain and prevent more attacks. That’s because the more fat you eat, the more digestive enzymes your pancreas releases. Higher levels of enzymes can cause an attack.
The National Pancreas Foundation recommends patients with pancreatitis limit their fat intake to 30 to 50 grams per day. Patients should eat four to six small meals each day.
Drinking plenty of fluids is essential. Pancreatitis can cause dehydration. That’s why many healthcare providers recommend keeping a water bottle with you and drinking at least 8 cups of water during the day.
Because caffeine can cause dehydration, they recommend sticking to just one cup of coffee or tea per day. Even if you have a mild case of pancreatitis, healthcare providers recommend not drinking any alcohol at all. This can worsen symptoms and cause more attacks.
Acute pancreatitis is becoming more common in the U.S. Unhealthy diets and higher rates of obesity may be behind this trend. That’s because a high-fat diet increases the risk of gallstones.
Studies have also shown that being obese can worsen the severity of acute pancreatitis. Fat in and around the pancreas can cause inflammation. In severe cases, this can damage cells and tissue within your pancreas.
So, if you’re obese, your healthcare provider will likely recommend losing weight to prevent flare-ups. Losing weight requires behavior and lifestyle changes like exercising more and limiting your portion sizes. You might also want to ask your healthcare provider about seeing a nutritionist and getting help from a fitness expert.
Research on the use of natural remedies for pancreatitis relief is limited. There is some evidence that certain supplements may ease symptoms. Here’s a look at findings from those studies:
In one review, researchers looked at 12 studies involving 585 people living with chronic pancreatitis. Some took antioxidants; some didn’t. The participants rated their pain on a scale of one to 10. The researchers found that one-third of the people who took the antioxidants reported having less pain after six months.
However, the number of pain-free patients at the end of the study was the same in both groups. The people who took the supplements also reported having more side effects, like headaches or upset stomachs.
Patients with pancreatitis have lower levels of antioxidants and higher levels of free radicals. Those are unstable molecules in the body that can hurt cells and cause illness. Other studies have found no benefit to treatment with antioxidants.
Glutamine is an amino acid. It helps break down food and boosts your immune system.
Some small studies suggest that glutamine supplements may help some patients avoid infections. Infections are the leading cause of death among people with severe acute pancreatitis.
In one study, researchers reviewed 12 clinical trials with a total of 505 patients with acute pancreatitis. Healthcare providers treated some with glutamine. Others didn’t get the supplements. The study found that the patients treated with glutamine were:
- 40% less likely to have complications, especially infections
- 70% less likely to die than those who didn’t take the supplement
However, the researchers say the treatment only helped patients fed through tubes. There was also no difference in the length of hospital stays between patients who got the treatment and those who didn’t.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These are nutrients you can get by eating salmon, tuna, and flaxseeds. Some small studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce inflammation from pancreatitis and repair damaged tissue.
Researchers reviewed eight clinical trials involving 364 participants with severe acute pancreatitis. Some were treated with omega-3 fatty acids. Others weren’t.
The researchers found that omega-3 fatty acids reduced the risk of death by about 75% among the patients who were treated with the supplements via feeding tubes. These patients were also less likely to get infections and had shorter hospital stays than those who didn’t get the supplements.
Patients fed through feeding tubes benefitted more than those who could eat normally.
Pancreatitis is painful swelling or inflammation of the pancreas. In severe cases, it can be fatal. Making specific lifestyle changes can help ease pain and lessen the risk of future attacks. These changes include not drinking alcohol, cutting back on caffeine, following a low-fat diet, and watching your weight.
Some small studies have suggested that using supplements to treat people with severe cases of pancreatitis may help lessen their pain, avoid infections, and live longer. However, it’s too early to tell whether these remedies can benefit all patients with pancreatitis.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you test for pancreatitis at home?
No, you cannot test for pancreatitis at home. While there are rapid urine tests available that don’t require any lab processing, these must be performed by a healthcare provider.
What causes pancreatitis attacks?
The main cause of acute pancreatitis is gallstones. For chronic pancreatitis, the main cause is heavy, daily alcohol use. This is defined as drinking four to five alcoholic beverages a day. Binge drinking is a rare cause of pancreatitis.
How can I prevent another pancreatic attack?
Don’t drink any alcohol. Limit the amount of caffeine you consume. When you can eat, follow a low-fat diet. Avoid greasy, fried, and processed foods like hot dogs and bacon. Watch your weight and exercise daily.
Can you cure pancreatitis on your own?
Acute pancreatitis requires treatment in a hospital setting, and you should never try to treat acute pancreatitis at home. There is no cure for chronic pancreatitis, but certain home treatments can help you manage symptoms and prevent-flare ups. This includes eating smaller, more frequent meals and avoiding alcohol.
Do antacids help pancreatitis pain?
Antacids are not recommended for treated pancreatitis pain. Some research even shows that using antacids may trigger acute pancreatitis in some people. If you are considering using antacids (or any other over-the-counter medication) for your pancreatitis pain, consult with your healthcare provider first.